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Reviewed: Test Drive Le Mans
Author: Chris Kim       Date: April 4th 2000
Page: 3

One portion of the game that seems to have been neglected is the car damaging model--there seems to be none on the lower levels! No matter how much the car runs into other objects--trees, road blocks, signs, other cars, the car never takes any visible damage. Oddly enough, when the player goes for a stop in the pit, there is a damage meter on the side, but it never seems to have any damage on the meter either to repair. The damage model on the professional level is a bit more realistic and convincing and affects car performance enough, but the implementation is nothing spectacular. Pit stops are quite common in the Le Mans 24 Hours and Endurance Championship races because of the lengthy time periods that they simulate. Tires need changing and gas re-pumping is frequently required to maintain the car so that it will be able to continue competing in the race. Pit stops are painless and require little work to get finished.

Another portion of the game that feels a bit disconnected is the exclusion of any multiplayer. Since this is racing game, it would seem proper to add a multiplayer component in the game, but there is none. Because of this shortcoming, the game tries to make-up for it in its relatively well modeled AI. Unlike most racing AI, where the opponents simply go by the player without notice, computer opponents in Test Drive Le Mans will focus and try to actually hinder the progress of the player by using various tactics. One of the most obvious tactics is when the computer opponent blocks a clear path so that the player cannot pass. Another ruthless, but just as effective method that the computer opponents seem to use is ramming and running the player off the road by pushing the player to side with a sharp jab or clipping them at a high speed. For the most part, the AI is pretty well developed and no major shortcomings were sighted. This advanced AI also applies to various parts of the game, at the lower difficulty amateur and arcade levels, these AI settings are much subdued, while on the professional and Le Mans 24 Hours modes the AI is pumped up to the fullest amount.

Clear Path
Approaching Dark Horizon?
Flyby Camera

There isn't much to write about the interface or controls aside from them being sufficient for the job. Unlike most titles, however, Test Drive Le Mans seems to prefer the control of a gamepad over an analog joystick or steering wheel. With either of these two devices, the control seemed a bit on the shaky side with the full range of motion of both input devices not taken into consideration. The default sensitivity of the joysticks were way too sensitive as even the slightest motion would cause a sudden shift in movement. With some work on the sensitivity and calibration levels, the game was suitable for usage with these analog devices. Using the Sidewinder Gamepad, the game played extremely well and responded very well to all controls. Keyboard functionality was decent and offered similar responsiveness as the gamepad.

All of the menus and interface is controlled using a cursor based scroll menu similar to most console interfaces. This interface isn't all that intuitive, but it is very quick and fast, especially with the gamepad. Using the gamepad, navigating from menu to menu and selecting and deselecting choices is quite easy. Pit stops are easily and hastily controlled through the menu system, although it can take a little work to figure out the first time around as the manual is a bit vague about the whole game. While there are no inherit weaknesses with the interface, the lack of mouse support may turn off some users.

Zooming Past Trees
Back Look is Just Cool!
Turning Abilities of the Prototypes

Mainly, the graphics engine backing Test Drive Le Mans is a solid engine with some slight flaws. Car models and dynamic lighting effects are definitely strong points while some usage of flat textures tend to detract from the overall look. Since there are over 45 different car models, little compromise was made to give as much detail as possible to each of the cars. Unlike Test Drive 6, which consisted of many box and rectangle cut-outs, Test Drive Le Mans has higher polygon count cars that makes them less jagged and sharp looking. The cars all have much more detail to them such as decals and various advertising textures covering the bodies of the cars. Top that off with reflective bodies that have direct shining off of the headlights from other cars, and that adds up to one excellent car model. Other weather effects like rain and fog are also very well done. The fogging and night effects work hand in hand to provide a realistic night time driving atmosphere. While it doesn't produce that mirror type effect in real-life when driving with the headlights on, it does illuminate the path to a varying degree and reflects onto various paths. The lighting effects from the car headlights onto the dark and murky road are very convincing and heightens the atmosphere for a more immersive experience and adds to the feeling of driving at night. Add in the compelling road and dirt textures, and the environment is nearly complete. These textures are very detailed and look very realistic. Increase the resolution to 1024x768 with 32-Bit color support, and the result looks astounding.

At first glance, the graphics engine seems a bit weak, but the graphics tend to grow on the player. This is mainly because the weaker parts of the engine come from the usage of flat texture to fill in some of the scenery. Items such as the crowd against the fences and trees all use single pixels to draw these objects. The result is extremely flat and an unrealistic finish. Aside from that, the sky on bright days isn't exactly the most detailed and doesn't deliver a photo-realistic finish. It's actually rather blurry and washed out.

Skid Out
Pitch Black Racing
Pit Stop

Audio also seems to be a weak point of Test Drive Le Mans. There aren't a whole lot of different sound effects that fill the air aside from the engine noises. Thankfully, each of the engines from the various cars seems to be sampled so a slightly different engine noise will be heard every time a new car is used. Another small difference from many other racers is the inclusion of an announcer during the game that gives a comment here and there. Such phrases as "He fought a while and it finally pays off" will fill the void of the engine and collisions at the correct moments. Collision and skidding tire sounds are pretty simple, but they sound well done. There is also support for 3D Sound Engines and it is used pretty efficiently for warning as to when cars from behind are approaching. One thing that is missing from the game is music. Thankfully the game allows for users to input their own audio CDs for playing while racing, which is where the nearly 600mb installation comes in, therefore, the CD is not required to be in the drive to play.

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Added:  Tuesday, April 04, 2000
Reviewer:  Chris Kim
Page: 3/5

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